By Jessica Ruch, Associate Director
“A wife must listen to man and do as he says. She belongs to him now,” my colleague quietly translated as the young couple held hands before the priest. This wedding was just one personal experience of a Peace Corps volunteer in a southeast village, however, research shows systematic discrimination against women and a widespread prevalence of gender based violence (GBV) in Ukraine. The UN reports that 90% of violent cases are against women and though the government has introduced initiatives and ratified laws to prevent and protect against GBV, the country faces major obstacles inhibiting prevention and survivor protection.
Domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence, sexualized violence, sexual harassment, and human trafficking are the four most pervasive types of GBV in Ukraine. Like many other countries, DV and IPV are taboo and veiled from public and private discussions in Ukraine. The myths encouraging victim blaming in family violence and normalization of violence is still widespread in society. Comprehensive DV data was not collected until the EU and UNDP’s 2009 study, which revealed that nearly 1/3 of adults experienced DV as children and 44% of women experienced DV in their lifetime. Men were more likely to experience DV as children, and women as adults. Seventy-five percent of DV survivors never sought help and only 1-2% contacted NGOs or social services.
Information on the status and response to sexualized violence is vague and unsubstantiated. The Ukrainian government reports that service providers are trained to deliver physical and psychological care to sexual assault survivors, but the EU’s Gender Equality Commission concludes that there are no services which ensure immediate care, trauma support or counseling, nor are services free or accessible to all survivors. The NGO, Women Against Violence in Europe reports that there are no permanent centers supporting survivors of sexual assault.
There is also no national data on sexual harassment in Ukraine. The Human Rights Watch estimated in 2003 that 50% of women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Although Ukraine criminalizes sexual harassment in the workplace or any environment, the International Labor Organization found the legal definition of ‘sexual harassment’ “does not cover situations where conduct of a sexual nature creates a hostile working environment, irrespective of whether there is a relation of subordination between the harasser and the victim.”
Human trafficking and enslavement have received much international attention and national response in the past 10 years in Ukraine. After the fall of the Soviet Union, large migration movements increased Ukrainian populations’ trafficking vulnerability, which became increasingly frequent. In 2013, the International Organization for Migration study identified 929 trafficking survivors, predominantly male, who were trafficked for labor (89%), sexual exploitation (8%) and organ removal (less than 1%). The European University Institute believes that reported numbers are likely to be less than 10% of actual survivors.
While most violence in Ukraine is reportedly directed at women, there is little information on male GBV survivors and essentially no information on gender non-conforming and trans survivors. The recent conflict in eastern Ukraine has only exacerbated the rate and brutality of GBV cases, especially among internally displaced people. National NGO hotlines reported three times more calls for DV, mostly in families with returning soldiers experiencing PTSD, and floods of incoming calls for sexualized violence committed by both separatists and state forces in rebel-controlled zones of eastern Ukraine. It requires the immediate and increased support of the government and civil society.
Attributions to the photo can be found here.